What if sperm were uploaded – or maybe, um, discharged – onto the Bitcoin network and those looking to get pregnant could more easily access the emotional, complex task of finding the right swimmers on the blockchain for attributes like Choose education? Level, hobbies and physical characteristics?
Wei Escala is the founder and CEO of Egg chain, an Austin-based startup developing a supply chain solution for the assisted reproduction industry. In vitro fertilization (IVF) involves implanting a fertilized egg in a woman’s ovaries to induce pregnancy. This requires sperm, sometimes provided by a partner and sometimes by a donor.
It’s part of a new kind of project built on stacks, a blockchain that shares a native connection with Bitcoin via proof of transmission, which “enables decentralized apps, smart contracts and digital assets” to be processed and verified on Bitcoin blocks. Eggschain is one of these new decentralized apps or DApps.
But why do sperm donations and embryo implantations have to be registered in a blockchain first? The answers lie in the scalability for a seamless sperm selection process across different jurisdictions, not to mention a high level of protection for patient data, protection against data loss or incorrect storage and an overall more transparent design of the system.
If things go well, Eggshain’s blockchain-based matching solution could soon bear fruit around the world. It’s not there yet, but the revolution is coming.
Eggschain’s blockchain is secured by Bitcoin via stack, a startup incubated by Y Combinator that is “building a Bitcoin-secured Internet owned by the user”. In practice, this means that Stacks operationalizes smart contracts and DApps like Eggschain by syncing with Bitcoin every 10-minute block to embed an indelible, permanent record.
Dear community, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
We couldn’t be happier to announce our first cohort of 25 startups building on Bitcoin with stacks.
– startups.btc (@StacksStartups) June 23, 2021
The Eggschain solution has not yet been published. “I don’t want to commit myself to a schedule,” says Escala, also because “we are among the first developers to build on the Stacks blockchain.” This seems like a reasonable answer, as there are often delays in blockchain projects comes – be it due to technical, legal or budgetary challenges.
While lower transaction fees influenced the decision to build on a Bitcoin sidechain instead of other chains like Ethereum, Bitcoin’s reputation as an incorruptible ledger was crucial. Bitcoin “will be around for hundreds, thousands, or millions of years,” says Escala, as if establishing some fundamental scientific fact. While millions of years can be written off as overzealous marketing, choosing a chain to pursue reproduction means to support the one most likely to survive far into the future.
“Bitcoin is the oldest blockchain in the world and very well established, and gas fees are many times lower compared to some of the other leading blockchains.”
Escala explains, “When your semen is donated, it is a transaction that is hashed on the blockchain,” complete with an indelible timestamp. Other transactions take place “when the sperm is implanted in a woman or an egg”. The time between fertilization of the egg and implantation can go on for years, and the sperm have been frozen for that long 22 years and has still been used successfully.
In practice, this means that a donor can see how often their sperm has been used, which gives them a rough idea of how many children they could have and in what general areas. This can even serve to gamify the sperm donation experience even if the donor is unwilling to be contacted by his offspring ever.
Although Bitcoin itself is a transparent blockchain that allows transactions to be tracked, Escala explains that, like stacks, Eggschain cannot be “retraced” in such a way that the “family tree” can be followed up and down. This is by design because “Just because someone received your donated semen doesn’t give them the authority to read your life – it’s almost an invasion of your privacy,” according to Escala.
“Patient-identifiable information cannot be on the blockchain.”
In India and much of Africa, it is normal for women to have their first baby at the age of 20. At 25, the United States is the lowest. Average age in the western world, with the average primipara in countries like Germany, Singapore, Japan, Great Britain and Australia flirting at or even exceeding 30 – the age at which fertility begins to decline.
Although access to contraception and changing values contribute to old age in the West, careers and finances often play a role. The pressure to postpone pregnancy is all the greater as professional development often requires frequent moves between offices and countries – although the homework era may bring changes.
Health problems such as cancer, which are on the rise around the world, are another reason for treatment as women try to preserve their eggs before they are potentially harmed by chemotherapy. All in all, it’s easy to see why so many women choose to do this freeze their eggs – just in case they deteriorate or run out before they want to use them.
When her best friend decided to freeze her balls in 2018, Escala “witnessed every step – I felt like I had almost lived through the whole experience.” Not just a friend, she’s also a businesswoman, and she sensed an opportunity to improve the IVF process.
Escala founded Eggschain in June 2018.
Unless there is a pre-selected partner, the process of sperm selection – or more precisely, a sperm donor – is an intimate and difficult process. On the one hand, donors have to be examined in “an established laboratory for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and all hereditary diseases”, and their sperm are often kept in quarantine for up to six months.
Depending on the sperm bank and the laws of the donor’s country, there is often extensive information available about the potential donor, such as educational level, hobbies and physical characteristics – all of these characteristics that are associated with the given semen sample via Eggschain.
“I can say that I want a sperm donor with curly hair and maybe a college degree – and that sperm donor ideally plays the violin,” explains Escala, listing attributes that can often be selected. She also suggests that someone who likes basketball could choose a “size” donor who plays basketball.
All of these anonymous attributes can be added to the blockchain and effectively become the “statistics” of the specific sperm, making choosing a sperm a smoother experience. While not remotely comparable to any serious medical procedure, the chain’s function bears a metaphorical resemblance to certain ones NFT based gameswhere the characters “DNA” is tracked on the blockchain as it is passed on to “descendants”. The ethical implications of choosing designer babies are presumably left to the users with whom they wrestle.
Escala doesn’t live up to the stereotype of a hip cowboy blockchain entrepreneur. Despite having had a career in marketing “and much in the supply chain,” she presents herself as a meticulous scientist who is careful with definitions and technical details – even a nerd.
She was born in Austin, Texas and moved to Singapore when she was 15. There she attended Temasek Junior College, where she studied physics, math and organic chemistry before returning to Austin “to be closer to my good friends and to join the hustle and bustle.” Startup scene there. ”She enrolled in a computer science program at the University of Texas at Austin, where she became interested in cryptography and human-machine interaction.
“I graduated right after 9/11, so some of my offers were withdrawn,” she recalls. Despite the turmoil, she worked as a stockbroker and financial advisor at American Express in Salt Lake City, Utah, until March 2002. She also worked as a branch manager for SunTrust Bank in Hampton, Virginia.
Not entirely satisfied with her career in finance, Escala completed an MBA in Marketing, Strategy and General Management at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta. This was followed by 15 years of career growth in companies where Escala shuttled between cities in the continental United States, holding most jobs for a year or two.
Ohio. New York. Texas. Ohio. Kentucky.
And back to Austin, Texas in 2017. There she worked as the CEO of Powerista, which could help anyone “create a website in less than 2 minutes!” It didn’t last, but is still used by someone with obvious marketing skills marketed.
In Austin in 2018, Escala came across blockchain at a South by Southwest conference and immediately saw an application to track biosamples for personalized medicine.
According to Escala’s vision, sperm banks all over the world could be connected to the Eggschain backend – practically the front end or the user interface of the sperm donation. In theory, this could allow patients a much wider variety of sperm to choose from. The laws of different jurisdictions could also be programmed into the chain, effectively minimizing the legal bureaucracy of international inseminations.
Due to the scalability potential after the implementation of the system, Eggschain has set its goals high. “We hope to make a universal tracking system available to all patients in the world,” says Escala of everyone involved in the IVF process.
Since Eggschain’s “patented solution covers the matching and tracking of genetic material using the blockchain,” this means that sperm and embryos are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible future applications for Eggschain.
“Organs, tissue and other bio-samples can definitely use the system in the future,” says Escala optimistically.